The life of crime in movies is often portrayed as a family business (The Godfather) or a surrogate family (Goodfellas). White Boy Rick takes a unique perspective of a family that turns to crime to try to save their family.
Ricky Wershe, Sr. (Matthew McConaughey) and his son Ricky Jr. (Richie Merritt) sell guns to the gangs in Detroit in 1984. When they get caught, the FBI pressures Ricky Jr. to inform for them to keep his father out of prison.
It’s a pretty timely portrayal of how black market guns flooded the street. We see the results of the weapons the Wershes gave criminals access to, even if the Wershes didn’t pull the triggers themselves.
But I wouldn’t blame the Wershes for that either. They exploited a system that not only made it possible, but offered them no other avenue to provide for themselves above board.
Ricky Sr. is doing this to raise capital for a legitimate video store business so he can provide for his kids. His daughter Dawn (Bel Powley) is a drug addict who won’t speak to him, but he really wants to provide a stable home for her to get clean.
Ricky Jr. is doing it to keep his father from getting locked up and ripping the family apart even further. When the Wershes get moments of happiness, they feel well earned, and precarious because the other shoe can always drop. Despite their questionable vocations, they support each other at their lowest.
The film handles the passage of time well, covering every year from ’83 to ’87. The progression of each year is clear, even though it seems to rain every day for the entire four years.
None of the true story feels sensationalized. Ricky Jr.’s operation gradually escalates but stays within the realms of possibility. By the time he’s in way over his head, you understand how he got there.
White Boy Rick is a solid entry in the true crime genre. It doesn’t over glamorize anything, and in fact when they celebrate it feels a little pathetic that that’s all they get compared to the Henry Hills of the world.
It’s stark in portraying the realities of gun violence, but poignant in how it shows the love of a family isn’t compromised by these factors. In fact, if more people in power understood the depths of a family’s love, perhaps they would work to help families like the Wershes avoid turning to crime.
White Boy Rick opens Friday, September 14 in theaters.